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Olive, Again

A Novel

by Elizabeth Strout

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout X
Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout
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  • Published:
    Oct 2019, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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Reid

A delightful curmudgeon
As with the first book, Olive Kitteridge, this is the story of a singular woman living her brief life on the coast of Maine, creating wreckage with her acerbic tongue and caustic judgments. She is deeply broken, our Olive, and not very likeable, and yet we love her and wish for her to succeed. This is the tightrope Elizabeth Strout has walked yet again in this second volume. How is it that such an unpleasant person can elicit such sympathy from us? I suspect the answer is the resonance we feel in response to her brokenness, how it chimes with our own. Though she is far more unskillful in her dealings with those around her than most of us, we have all had our moments of being the Olive in the room, the one who blurts out the ugly truth or the intolerant judgement, then wonders why we have become the pariahs.

It is rather odd to call this a novel (as it was the first book), because this really is a book of short stories interconnected by a single character, who sometimes is front and center, and other times barely even mentioned. Yet it becomes the story of a single life, much like a paint-by-numbers picture becomes comprehensible with the addition of each subsequent color, different shadings and hues of Olive become more evident with each passing chapter.

I particularly like her relationship to Jack Kennison, a person in whom she has met her match and who loves her despite herself, as did her late husband, Henry. But I also deeply appreciate Strout's expansion on Olive's connection to her son, Christopher, with whom she has both a deep bond and troubling animosity. She wishes to be loved by him, but seems incapable of being lovable with him. It is terribly heartbreaking, but also feels truthful and genuine.

A few quick notes: first of all, though this novel would stand alone, reading the first will give this one greater depth and meaning. Second, if you have not watched the adaptation of Olive Kitteridge with Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins (with Bill Murray as Jack Kennison), please do. They embody the characters so thoroughly and so well, it is difficult to imagine anyone else in those roles.
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